PM backs troubled families scheme amid warnings of ‘patchy results’

The number of problem families “turned around” by a Government scheme has almost doubled in the last six months, as the Government sought to counter warnings the programme was set to miss targets.

David Cameron set out an ambitious plan to help 120,000 “troubled” households by May 2015 as part of his response to rioting in London and other cities in the summer of 2013.

Blaming the disorder on broken homes, he offered English councils financial incentives to get truanting children back to school, adults into work and anti-behaviour arrested – backed with a budget of over £400 million.

Public spending watchdogs warned in recent weeks that the initiative risked falling short of expectations, with MPs pointing the finger at a “baffling” failure of Whitehall co-ordination for delays.

The Commons public accounts committee called for further improvements in data-sharing, action to tackle wide variations in the performance of councils and firms delivering the help, and an increase in the pace of progress.

But the Prime Minister hailed the latest figures supplied by councils – some of which said they have dealt with three-quarters of the families in their areas – as evidence that people were being assisted and that the taxpayer was saving money.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said the 39,480 families where children had now been to school for three consecutive terms, youth crime and anti-social behaviour significantly reduced and adults found work for at least three months would otherwise have cost the state £3 billion a year.

So far, 111,000 have been identified for help, with 97,000 being actively worked on, DCLG said.

Mr Cameron said: “Getting some of our country’s most troubled families’ lives back on track is a key part of our long-term plan – it saves the taxpayer money, gives people the chance to get on in life and secures a better future for these families, their communities and for our country.”

Wakefield reports that it has helped over 85% of its targeted families, Leicestershire 78% and Bristol 75%.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “Progress is being made in all corners of the country and I’m proud that this Government is taking action to help change the lives of the families most in need.”

Head of the programme Louise Casey added: “This programme works because it is about dealing with all members of the family and all of its problems, being tough but supportive and providing intensive, practical help.

“Councils have changed the way they work with troubled families to make sure that one team or worker is providing that support, not a dozen different public services.

“In doing so, they are now seeing results which mean that more families will be able to be helped in the future.”

Anne Longfield, chief executive of the 4Children charity, warned that success rates across the country were patchy.

“Forty thousand families ‘turned around’… is good news. It means 40,000 fewer struggling families falling into crisis, with real rewards for families, communities and the public purse.

“However it also means that there are still 80,000 families who are yet to turn their problems around and there are significant disparities in success between local areas.

“Some areas are not yet joining their services together to provide the intensive support needed. This will be even more important when the programme expands to a further 400,000 families from 2015/16.”